Religion, Romanticism, and Cultural Reform in America, 1820-1860



Elizabeth Cady Stanton / Public Domain


Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh / 03.19.2018
Historian
Brewminate Editor-in-Chief



1 – The Age of Cultural Reforms

1.1 – Movements and Reforms

1.1.1 – Transcendentalism of the Nineteenth Century

Transcendentalism was America’s first notable intellectual and philosophical movement. It developed in the 1830s and 1840s in the New England region of the United States as a protest against the general state of culture and society. In particular, transcendentalists criticized the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and the doctrine of the Unitarian church taught at Harvard Divinity School.

1.1.2 – Core Beliefs

Transcendentalism became a movement of writers and philosophers who were loosely bound together by adherence to an idealistic system of thought based on the belief in the essential supremacy of insight over logic and experience for the revelation of the deepest truths. Among the transcendentalists’ core beliefs was the inherent goodness of both man and nature. Transcendentalists believed that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—ultimately corrupted the purity of the individual. They had faith that man is at his best when truly “self-reliant” and independent. It was believed that only from such real individuals could true community be formed. Rooted in the transcendental philosophy of Immanuel Kant (and of German idealism, more generally), the movement developed as a reaction against eighteenth-century rationalism, John Locke’s philosophy of sensualism, and the Manifest Destiny of New England Calvinism. Its fundamental belief was in the unity and immanence of God in the world.

The publication of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1836 essay “Nature” is usually considered the watershed moment at which transcendentalism became a major cultural movement. Emerson closed the essay by calling for a revolution in human consciousness to emerge from the new idealist philosophy. In the same year, on September 8 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, transcendentalism became a coherent movement with the founding of the Transcendental Club by prominent New England intellectuals including Emerson, George Putnam, and Frederick Henry Hedge. From 1840, the group published frequently in its journal The Dial and other venues. Early in the movement’s history, critics use the term “transcendentalist” as a pejorative, and suggested that the members’ position was beyond sanity and reason.

Ralph Waldo Emerson: Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803–April 27, 1882) was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-nineteenth century.

The transcendentalists varied in their interpretations of the practical aims of will. Some among the group linked it with utopian social change; Orestes Brownson connected it with early socialism, while others such as Emerson considered it an exclusively individualist and idealist project. In his 1842 lecture “The Transcendentalist,” Emerson suggested that the goal of a purely transcendental outlook on life was impossible to attain in practice. The transcendentalists desired to ground their religion and philosophy in transcendental principles that were not based on, or falsifiable by, physical experience, but that were derived from the inner spiritual or mental essence of the human. In contrast, they were intimately familiar with the English romantics, and the transcendental movement may be partially described as an American outgrowth of romanticism.

By the late 1840s, Emerson believed the movement was dying out, and even more so after the death of Margaret Fuller in 1850. Fuller was an American journalist, critic, and women’s-rights advocate closely associated with the movement; according to Emerson, “she represents an interesting hour and group in American cultivation.” A second wave of transcendentalists emerged, however, including Moncure Conway, Octavius Brooks Frothingham, Samuel Longfellow, and Franklin Benjamin Sanborn.

1.1.3 – Emerson’s Influence

Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society. He disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States. Emerson gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of transcendentalism in his 1836 essay “Nature.” Following this groundbreaking work, he gave a speech entitled, “The American Scholar” in 1837.

Emerson’s first two collections of essays, published in 1841 and 1844, represent the core of his thinking. His work includes such well-known essays as “Self-Reliance,” “The Over-Soul,” “Circles,” “The Poet,” and “Experience.” Together with “Nature,” these essays made the decade from the mid-1830s to the mid-1840s Emerson’s most fertile period.

Emerson wrote on a number of subjects, never espousing fixed philosophical tenets but developing certain ideas and themes such as individuality, freedom, humankind’s ability to realize almost anything, and the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world. While his writing style can be seen as somewhat impenetrable, Emerson’s essays remain among the linchpins of American thinking and have greatly influenced the thinkers, writers, and poets who have followed him.

1.1.4 – Thoreau’s Influence

Henry David Thoreau was an American author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, and leading transcendentalist. He is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay “Civil Disobedience,” an argument for individual resistance to civil government in moral opposition to an unjust state.

Among Thoreau’s lasting contributions were his writings on natural history and philosophy, in which he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern day environmentalism. His literary style interweaves close natural observation, personal experience, pointed rhetoric, symbolic meanings, and historical lore. He was also deeply interested in the idea of survival in the face of hostile elements, historical change, and natural decay. At the same time, he advocated abandoning waste and illusion in order to discover life’s true essential needs.

He was a lifelong abolitionist, delivering lectures that attacked the Fugitive Slave Law while praising the writings of Wendell Phillips and defending abolitionist John Brown. Thoreau’s philosophy of civil disobedience later influenced the political thoughts and actions of such notable figures as Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

1.1.5 – Focus on Individualism

Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that stresses the moral worth and value of the individual. Individualists promote the exercise of one’s goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance while opposing external interference upon one’s own interests by society or institutions such as the government. Liberalism, existentialism, and anarchism are examples of movements that take the human individual as a central unit of analysis. Individualism is associated with artistic and bohemian interests and lifestyles in which there is a tendency towards self-creation and experimentation as opposed to tradition or popular mass opinions and behaviors, and also with humanist philosophical positions and ethics.

Emerson championed individuality, freedom, and humankind’s ability to realize almost anything. In his essay “Nature,” Emerson asserted that because God’s presence is inherent in both humanity and nature, all people contain seeds of divinity. His essay “Self-Reliance” thoroughly emphasizes the need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency and to follow his or her own instincts and ideas.

1.2 – Women’s Rights

1.2.1 – Introduction

The movement for women’s rights in the United States can be traced back to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. “First-wave feminism” refers to the feminist movement of the nineteenth through early twentieth centuries, which focused mainly on women’s suffrage, or right to vote.

During the early part of the nineteenth century, agitation for equal suffrage was attempted by only a few individuals. The first of these was Frances Wright, a Scottish woman who came to the country in 1826 and advocated women’s suffrage in an extensive series of lectures. In 1836, a Polish woman named Ernestine Rose came to the United States and undertook a similar campaign so effectively that she obtained a personal hearing before the New York Legislature, though her petition bore only five signatures. In 1840, Lucretia Mott and Margaret Fuller became active in Boston, the latter authoring the book The Great Lawsuit; Man vs. Woman. Gerrit Smith, who was the Liberty Party’s candidate for president in 1848, successfully championed a plank in his party’s position calling for women’s equal rights.

1.2.2 – Conventions and Resolutions

The first women’s-rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, in July of 1848. The Seneca Falls Convention was hosted by Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann McClintock, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Some 300 attended, including Frederick Douglass, who stood up to speak in favor of women’s suffrage. After two days of discussion and debate, 68 women and 32 men signed a “Declaration of Sentiments,” which outlined grievances and set the agenda for the women’s-rights movement. A set of 12 resolutions was adopted, calling for equal treatment of women and men under the law and voting rights for women.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, ca. 1880: Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an important early figure in the women’s-suffrage movement in the mid-nineteenth century. Her “Declaration of Sentiments,” presented at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, is often credited with initiating the first organized women’s-suffrage movement in the United States.

Another advocate of women’s rights was Lucy Stone. In 1850, she met with Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis, Abby Kelley Foster, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and six other women to organize the larger National Women’s Rights Convention. This national convention brought together for the first time many of those who had been working individually for women’s rights. On the closing day, Stone gave a stirring speech to the 1,000-strong audience, which is said to have inspired Susan B. Anthony to join the cause.

Lucy Stone, ca. 1840: Lucy Stone, the first American woman recorded to have retained her own name after marriage, was an important figure in the women’s-rights movement of the nineteenth century and an organizer of the National Women’s Rights Convention.

While conventions provided places where women could support each other, they also highlighted some of the challenges of unifying many different leaders into one movement. Women’s-rights activists faced difficult questions, such as: Should the movement include or exclude men? Who was to blame for women’s inequality? What remedies should they seek? How could women best convince others of their need for equality? One goal, however, was clear: Attendees resolved to secure legal and social equality for women on par with men.

1.2.3 – Progress and Gains

By 1860, women’s-rights advocates had made some headway. In Indiana, divorces could be granted not only on the basis of adultery, but also on desertion, drunkenness, and cruelty. In New York, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, and Ohio, women’s property rights had expanded to allow married women to keep their own wages. In 1860, New York passed a revised Married Women’s Property Act, which gave women shared ownership of their children, allowing them to have a say in their children’s wills and wages and granting them the right to inherit property.

The movement experienced further advances and setbacks in New York and other states, but feminists were able to use each new win as an example to apply more leverage on unyielding legislative bodies. Clearly there was still much to be done; however, reformers had given a name to women’s oppression and had set into motion the movement that would continue to change American attitudes for years to come.

1.2.4 – Critiques

The earlier forms of feminism have been criticized for being geared toward and focused on white, middle-class, educated women, to the exclusion of the diverse experiences of other women. Second- and third-wave feminist movements followed this initial first wave, working to further combat social, cultural, and political inequalities.

1.3 – Abolitionists and the American Ideal

The abolitionist movement intensified in the first half of the nineteenth century, and tensions between the North and the South continued to rise.

1.3.1 – The Rise of Abolitionism

Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, abolitionism—a movement to end slavery—intensified throughout the United States. In the 1850s, slavery was established legally in the 15 states constituting the American South. It remained especially strong in plantation areas where crops such as cotton, sugar, tobacco, and hemp were essential exports. By 1860, the slave population in the United States had grown to 4 million. While American abolitionism strengthened in the North, support for slavery held strong among white southerners, who profited so greatly from the system of enslaved labor that slavery itself became intertwined with the national economy. The banking, shipping, and manufacturing industries of New York City all had strong economic interests in slavery, as did other major cities in the North.

1.3.2 – Leading Activists

Notable African-American activists included former slaves such as Frederick Douglass and David Walker and free African Americans such as brothers Charles Henry Langston and John Mercer Langston, who helped found the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society. Other abolitionists included writers such as John Greenleaf Whittier and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The white abolitionist movement in the North was led by social reformers, especially William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society. The Society fragmented in the 1830s and 40s into groups that included the Liberty Party, the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, the American Missionary Association, and the Church Anti-Slavery Society. A few abolitionists, such as John Brown, favored the use of armed force to encourage uprisings among slaves. Brown led two actions for the purpose of abolishing slavery—the Pottawatomie Massacre in Bleeding Kansas in 1856 and an unsuccessful raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859.

1.3.3 – Abolitionist Arguments

Antislavery as a principle was far more than simply the wish to limit slavery. Most northerners recognized that the Constitution did not allow the federal government to intervene in the slavery-laden South. Historians traditionally distinguish between “gradualists,” moderate antislavery reformers who concentrated on stopping the spread of slavery, and “immediatists,” or radical abolitionists (such as William Lloyd Garrison) whose demands for unconditional emancipation often merged with their concern for African-American civil rights.

Most abolitionists tried to raise public support by citing the unlawfulness of slavery. Some abolitionists claimed that slavery was not only criminal, but also a sin. Additionally, they criticized slave owners for using black women as concubines. This movement to tout the immorality of slavery gained momentum with the widespread publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the North in 1852.  The abolitionist movement was further strengthened by the efforts of free African Americans, especially in the black church, who argued that the old biblical justifications for slavery contradicted the New Testament. Abolitionists pointed to evidence of the abuses of slavery to strengthen their arguments.

Slavery abuses: Abolitionists used evidence such as the scars on the back of this former slave named Peter to speak eloquently about the abuses of slavery.

The Republican Party wanted to achieve the gradual extinction of slavery by market forces, based on the belief that free labor was superior to slave labor. Believing that restricting slavery to the South and refusing to let it expand would eventually cause the institution to die out, the party adopted  a “free soil” platform.

The heated sectional controversy between the North and the South reached new levels of intensity in the 1850s. Southerners and northerners grew ever more antagonistic as they debated the expansion of slavery in the West. The notorious confrontation between Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina and Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner illustrates the contempt between extremists on both sides. The “Caning of Sumner” in May 1856 followed a speech given by Sumner two days earlier, in which he condemned slavery in no uncertain terms, declaring: “[Admitting Kansas as a slave state ] is the rape of a virgin territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery; and it may be clearly traced to a depraved longing for a new slave state, the hideous offspring of such a crime, in the hope of adding to the power of slavery in the national government.” Sumner criticized proslavery legislators, particularly attacking a fellow senator and relative of Preston Brooks. Brooks responded by beating Sumner with a cane, a thrashing that southerners celebrated as a defense of gentlemanly honor and their way of life. The episode highlights the violent clash between pro- and antislavery factions in the 1850s, a conflict that would eventually lead to the traumatic unraveling of American democracy and civil war.

1.3.4 – The Argument for Colonization

In the early part of the nineteenth century, a variety of organizations were founded that advocated for the moving of black people from the United States to locations where they would enjoy greater freedom. Some endorsed colonization in Africa, while others advocated emigration. During the 1820s and 30s, the American Colonization Society (ACS, or the Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America) was the primary advocate of returning free African Americans to what was considered greater freedom in Africa. The ACS was mostly composed of Quakers and slaveholders who disagreed on the issue of slavery but found common ground in supporting repatriation. Colonization ignored the fact that many freed slaves, having lived in America for several generations, considered it their home, and preferred full rights in the United States over emigration. Colonization also lost appeal based on the logistics of relocating millions of slaves outside of the country. In 1821, the ACS established the colony of Liberia in Africa and assisted the emigration of thousands of former African-American slaves and free blacks (with legislated limits) from the United States. Many white people deemed this preferable to emancipation in the United States.

1.4 – The Temperance Movement

The temperance movement of the early nineteenth century advocated for alcohol moderation or complete abstinence from alcohol.

1.4.1 – The Rise of the Temperance Movement

In the late eighteenth century, the early temperance movement sparked to life with Benjamin Rush’s 1784 tract, “An Inquiry Into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind,” which judged the excessive use of alcohol as injurious to physical and psychological health. Influenced by this inquiry, about 200 farmers in a Connecticut community formed a temperance association in 1789 to ban the making of whiskey. Similar associations formed in Virginia in 1800 and New York in 1808.

Over the next decade, other temperance organizations formed in eight states, some of which were state-wide. Economic change and urbanization in the early nineteenth century were accompanied by increasing poverty, and various factors contributed to a widespread increase in alcohol use. Advocates for temperance argued that such alcohol use went hand in hand with spousal abuse, family neglect, and chronic unemployment. Americans increasingly drank more strong, cheap alcoholic beverages such as rum and whiskey, and pressure for inexpensive and plentiful alcohol led to relaxed ordinances on alcohol sales, which temperance advocates sought to reform.

The movement advocated temperance, or levelness, rather than abstinence. Many leaders of the movement expanded their activities and took positions on observance of the Sabbath and other moral issues. The reform movements met with resistance from brewers and distillers; many business owners were even fearful of women having the right to vote because it was expected that they would tend to vote for temperance.

Some leaders persevered in pressing their cause forward. Americans such as Lyman Beecher, a Connecticut minister, had started to lecture fellow citizens against all use of liquor in 1825. The American Temperance Society was formed in 1826 and benefited from a renewed interest in religion and morality. Within 12 years it claimed more than 8,000 local groups and more than 1,500,000 members. By 1839, 18 temperance journals were being published. Simultaneously, some Protestant and Catholic church leaders were beginning to promote temperance.

Lyman Beecher, ca. 1855: Lyman Beecher was a charismatic and influential preacher during the first half of the nineteenth century who championed, among other moral reforms, the temperance movement.

The movement split along two lines in the late 1830s between moderates, who allowed some drinking, and radicals, who demanded total abstinence. A split also formed between voluntarists, who relied on moral persuasion alone, and prohibitionists, who promoted laws to restrict or ban alcohol. Radicals and prohibitionists dominated many of the largest temperance organizations after the 1830s, and temperance eventually became synonymous with prohibition.

1.4.2 – Temperance in Popular Culture

The movement gained momentum to the point that it inspired an entire genre of theatre. This was first seen in 1825, as The Forgers, a dramatic poem written by John Blake White, premiered at the Charleston Theatre in Charleston, South Carolina. The next significant temperance drama to debut was titled Fifteen Years of a Drunkard’s Life, written by Douglas Jerrold in 1841. As the movement began to grow and prosper, these dramas became more popular among the general public. The Drunkard by W. H. Smith premiered in 1841 in Boston, running for 144 performances before being produced at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum on lower Broadway. The play was wildly popular and is often credited with the entrance of the temperance narrative into mainstream American theatre. It continued to be a staple of New York’s theatre scene until 1875. The Drunkard follows the typical format of a temperance drama: The main character has an alcohol-induced downfall, and he restores his life from disarray after he denounces drinking for good at the play’s end.

1.4.3 – Temperance and the Civil War

The Civil War dealt the movement a crippling blow. Temperance groups in the South were weaker than their northern counterparts and too voluntarist to gain any statewide prohibition law, and the few prohibition laws in the North were repealed by the war’s end. Both sides in the war made alcohol sales a part of the war effort by taxing brewers and distillers to finance much of the conflict. The issue of slavery crowded out the argument about temperance, and temperance groups largely fell by the wayside until they found new life in the 1870s.

1.5 – Prisons and Asylums

In the nineteenth century, a series of important social movements sought to reform both prisons and asylums in the United States.

1.5.1 – Prisons in the United States

Imprisonment as a form of criminal punishment became widespread in the United States just before the American Revolution, though penal incarceration efforts had been ongoing in England since as early as the 1500s, and prisons in the form of dungeons and various detention facilities had existed since long before then. Prison-building efforts in the United States during the Jacksonian Era led to widespread use of imprisonment and rehabilitative labor as the primary penalty for most crimes in nearly all states by the time of the American Civil War.

By the second decade of the nineteenth century, every state except North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida had amended its criminal code to provide for incarceration (primarily at hard labor) as the primary punishment for all but the most serious offenses. Provincial laws in Massachusetts began to prescribe short terms in the workhouse for deterrence throughout the eighteenth century and, by mid-century, the first statutes mandating long-term hard labor in the workhouse as a penal sanction appeared. This replaced earlier, more traditional forms of community-based punishment such as penal servitude, banishment, and public shaming such as the pillory.

By 1820, faith in the efficacy of legal reform was steadily declining. Statutory changes had had no noticeable effect on the level of crime, and prisons had become riotous and vulnerable to escapes. In response, New York developed the Auburn system in which prisoners were confined in separate cells and prohibited from talking when eating and working together. This penal method, where prisoners worked during the day in groups and were kept in solitary confinement at night, was implemented at Auburn State Prison and Sing Sing at Ossining.

The aim of this method was rehabilitative: The reformers talked about the penitentiary serving as a model for the family and the school. The assumption of rehabilitation was that people were not permanently criminal and that it was possible to restore a criminal to a useful life in which they could contribute to themselves and to society. Most states followed suit, although Pennsylvania went even further in separating prisoners. By the 1860s, however, overcrowding became common, partly due to long sentences given for violent crimes. Prisons saw increasing severity and often cruel methods of gagging and restraining prisoners. An increasing proportion of prisoners were new immigrants.

As a result of a tour of prisons in 18 states, Enoch Wines and Theodore Dwight produced a monumental report describing the flaws in the existing system and proposing remedies. Notably, they found that not a single state prison was seeking the reformation of its inmates as a primary goal. In 1870, they set out an agenda for reform which was endorsed by a National Congress in Cincinnati. These ideas were put into practice in the Elmira Reformatory in New York in 1876 run by Zebulon Brockway. At the core of the design was an educational program, which included general subjects and vocational training for the less capable. Instead of fixed sentences, prisoners who did well could be released early.

1.5.2 – Dorothea Dix and Asylum Reform

Attitudes toward the mentally ill also began to change during the time of the Enlightenment. In England and Europe, mental illness came to be viewed as a disorder that required compassionate treatment to aid in the rehabilitation of the victim. When the ruling monarch of the United Kingdom, George III, who suffered from a mental disorder, experienced a remission in 1789, mental illness also came to be seen as something that could be treated and cured. The introduction of moral treatment was initiated independently by the French doctor Philippe Pinel and the English Quaker William Tuke.

An important social justice reformer in American history, Dorothea Dix conducted a statewide investigation from 1840 to 1841 of how her home state of Massachusetts cared for the poor and mentally ill. In most cases, towns contracted with local individuals to care for people with mental disorders who could not care for themselves and who lacked family and friends to provide for them. Unregulated and underfunded, this system produced widespread abuse. After her survey, Dix published the results in a fiery report, “A Memorial,” addressed to the state legislature. The outcome of her lobbying was a bill to expand the state’s mental hospital in Worcester.

Dorothea Dix: Dorothea Dix was a crusader for the rights of the mentally ill and worked to improve conditions in asylums.

After her report, Dix traveled to states around the country, documenting the conditions of the poor and mentally ill and publishing memorials to state legislatures. She devoted enormous personal energy to working with committees to draft the enabling legislation needed to build asylums. Dix was influential in the establishment of Illinois’s first state mental hospital and the construction of a hospital in North Carolina for the care of mentally ill patients, which was named in honor of Dorothea Dix and opened in 1856. She was also instrumental in the founding of the first public mental hospital in Pennsylvania, the Harrisburg State Hospital, and later in establishing its library and reading room in 1853.

The culmination of her work was the Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent Insane, legislation to set aside 12,225,000 acres of Federal land (10,000,000 acres for the benefit of the insane and the remainder for the “blind, deaf, and dumb”), with proceeds from its sale distributed to the states to build and maintain asylums. Dix’s land bill passed both houses of Congress, but in 1854 President Franklin Pierce vetoed it, arguing that the federal government should not commit itself to social welfare, which was properly the responsibility of the states. In reaction to the defeat of her land bill, in 1854 and 1855 Dix traveled to England and Europe, where she conducted investigations of Scotland’s madhouses that precipitated the Scottish Lunacy Commission. Dix continued to work for social reforms, focusing her energy on military hospitals during the Civil War.

1.5 – Utopian Communities

1.5.1 – Utopian Communities of the Nineteenth Century

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many radical religious groups formed utopian societies in which all aspects of people’s lives could be governed by their faith. Experimental communities sprang up, created by men and women who hoped not only to create a better way of life but also to recast American civilization so that greater equality and harmony would prevail. Indeed, some of these reformers envisioned the creation of alternative ways of living that would allow people to attain perfection in human relations.

A number of religious utopian societies from Europe came to the United States beginning in the eighteenth century and continuing throughout the nineteenth century, including the Society of the Woman in the Wilderness (led by Johannes Kelpius), the Ephrata Cloister, the Shakers, and the Harmony Society. Communities such as Fruitlands were largely based on transcendentalist principles; others such as the Oneida Community were based on perfectionistic ideals and embraced unorthodox sexual practices. Many utopianist groups also believed in millennialism, or chiliasm in Greek. Millennialism is a belief held by some Christian denominations that there will be a “golden age” or “paradise on earth” in which Christ will reign for 1,000 years prior to the final judgment and future eternal state.

Most of those attracted to utopian communities had been profoundly influenced by evangelical Protestantism, especially the Second Great Awakening. However, their experience of revivalism had left them wanting to further reform society. The communities they formed and joined adhered to various socialist ideas and were considered radical because members wanted to create a new social order, not reform the old.

1.5.2 – The Shakers

Shaker dancing: Music and dance were important parts of Shaker community worship.

One of the earliest utopian movements was the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, more commonly known as the Shakers. Originating in England in the eighteenth century and moving to America shortly afterward, the Shakers are a Christian Protestant religious sect whose name was derived from the movements of the members in dancing, which forms a part of their worship. Ann Lee, a leader of the group in England, emigrated to New York in the 1770s, having experienced a profound religious awakening that convinced her that she was “mother in Christ.” She taught that God was both male and female; Jesus embodied the male side, while Mother Ann (as she came to be known by her followers) represented the female side. To Shakers in both England and the United States, Mother Ann represented the completion of divine revelation and the beginning of the millennium of heaven on earth.

In practice, men and women in Shaker communities were held as equals—a radical departure at the time—and women often outnumbered men. Equality extended to the possession of material goods as well; no one could hold private property. Shaker communities aimed for self-sufficiency, raising food and making all that was necessary, including furniture that emphasized excellent workmanship as a substitute for worldly pleasure.

Members of Shaker communities held all of their possessions in common and lived in a prosperous, inventive, self-supporting society. The defining features of the Shakers were their spiritual mysticism and their prohibition of sexual intercourse, which they held as an example of a lesser spiritual life and a source of conflict between women and men. Rapturous Shaker dances, for which the group gained notoriety, allowed for emotional release. The high point of the Shaker movement came in the 1830s, when about 6,000 members populated communities in New England, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. New members only could come from conversions and from children brought to the Shaker villages. The Shakers persisted into the twentieth century and are mostly known today for their cultural contributions (especially their style of music and furniture) and their model of equality of the sexes.

1.5.3 – The Harmony Society

The Harmony Society was a Christian theosophy and pietist group founded in Iptingen, Germany, in 1785. Due to religious persecution by the Lutheran Church and the government in Württemberg, the society moved to the United States and settled in Pennsylvania in 1805, together with about 400 followers. They formally organized the Harmony Society, placing all of their goods in common. The Harmony Society made three attempts to effect a millennial society, with the most notable example being at New Harmony, Indiana. Later, Scottish industrialist Robert Owen bought New Harmony and attempted to form a secular utopian community there. The group lasted until 1905, making it one of the longest-running financially successful communes in American history.

1.5.4 – The Oneida Community

The Oneida Community, founded by John Humphrey Noyes in Oneida, New York, was a utopian religious commune that lasted from 1848 to 1881. Although this utopian experiment is better known today for its manufacture of Oneida silverware, it was one of the longest running communes in American history. Also known as the “Perfectionist movement,” the community believed that Jesus had already returned in 70 A.D., making it possible for them to bring about Jesus’s millennial kingdom themselves, to be free of sin, and to be perfect in this world (a belief called “Perfectionism”).

Noyes applied his idea of perfection to relationships between men and women, earning notoriety for his unorthodox views on marriage and sexuality. Beginning in his home town of Putney, Vermont, he began to advocate what he called “complex marriage”: a form of communal marriage in which women and men who had achieved perfection could engage in sexual intercourse without sin. Noyes also promoted “male continence,” whereby men would not ejaculate, thereby freeing women from pregnancy and the difficulty of determining paternity when they had many partners. Intercourse became fused with spiritual power among Noyes and his followers.

The concept of complex marriage scandalized the townspeople in Putney, so Noyes and his followers moved to Oneida, New York. Individuals who wanted to join the Oneida Community underwent a tough screening process to weed out those who had not reached a state of perfection, which Noyes believed promoted self-control, not out-of-control behavior. The goal was a balance between individuals in a community of love and respect. The perfectionist community Noyes envisioned ultimately dissolved in 1881, although the Oneida Community itself continues to this day.

1.5.5 – Fruitlands

Fruitlands was a Utopian agrarian commune established in Harvard, Massachusetts, by Amos Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane in the 1840s, based on transcendentalist principles. Lane purchased what was known as the Wyman farm and its 90 acres, which also included a dilapidated house and barn. Residents of Fruitlands ate no animal substances, drank only water, bathed in unheated water, and did not use artificial light. Property was held communally, and no animal labor was used. The community was short-lived and lasted only seven months.

2 – The Second Great Awakening

2.1 – Introduction

The Second Great Awakening, which spread religion through revivals and emotional preaching, sparked a number of reform movements.

2.1.1 – Overview

The Second Great Awakening was a Protestant revival movement during the early nineteenth century. The movement began around 1790 and gained momentum by 1800; after 1820, membership rose rapidly among Baptist and Methodist congregations, whose preachers led the movement. The Second Great Awakening began to decline by 1870. It enrolled millions of new members and led to the formation of new denominations. It has been described as a reaction against skepticism, deism, and rational Christianity, although why those forces became pressing enough at the time to spark revivals is not fully understood.

The Second Great Awakening expressed Arminian theology, by which every person could be saved through revivals, repentance, and conversion. Revivals were mass religious meetings featuring emotional preaching by evangelists such as the eccentric Lorenzo Dow. Many converts believed that the Awakening heralded a new millennial age. The Second Great Awakening stimulated the establishment of many reform movements designed to remedy the evils of society before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Lorenzo Dow, American itinerant preacher: The Second Great Awakening included large revivals, which were passionate meetings led by evangelist preachers such as the eccentric Lorenzo Dow.

The Second Great Awakening had a profound effect on American religious history. The numerical strength of the Baptists and Methodists rose relative to that of the denominations dominant in the colonial period, such as the Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Reformed.

2.1.2 – Background

The burst of religious enthusiasm that began in Kentucky and Tennessee in the 1790s and early 1800s among Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians owed much to the uniqueness of the early decades of the republic. These years saw swift population growth, broad western expansion, and the rise of participatory democracy. These political and social changes made many people anxious, and the more egalitarian, emotional, and individualistic religious practices of the Second Great Awakening provided relief and comfort for Americans experiencing rapid change. The awakening soon spread to the East, where it had a profound effect on Congregationalists and Presbyterians. The thousands swept up in the movement believed in the possibility of creating a much better world. Many adopted millennialism, the fervent belief that the Kingdom of God would be established on earth and that God would reign on earth for a thousand years, characterized by harmony and Christian morality. Those drawn to the message of the Second Great Awakening yearned for stability, decency, and goodness in the new and turbulent American republic.

2.1.3 – Evangelizing the Frontiers

Congregationalists set up missionary societies to evangelize the western territory of the Northern Tier. Members of these groups acted as apostles for the faith, educators, and exponents of northeastern urban culture. The Second Great Awakening served as an organizing process that created, “a religious and educational infrastructure” across the western frontier that encompassed social networks, a religious journalism that provided mass communication, and church-related colleges. Publication and education societies promoted Christian education; most notable among them was the American Bible Society, founded in 1816.

Women made up a large part of these voluntary societies. The Female Missionary Society and the Maternal Association, both active in Utica, New York, were highly organized and financially sophisticated women’s organizations responsible for many of the evangelical converts of the New York frontier.

Each denomination that participated in the Second Great Awakening had assets that allowed it to thrive on the frontier. The Methodists had an efficient organization that depended on ministers known as “circuit riders,” who sought out people in remote frontier locations. The circuit riders came from among the common people, which helped them establish rapport with the frontier families they hoped to convert.

2.1.4 – Relation to Social Reform

Social reform prior to the Civil War came largely out of this new devotion to religion. Efforts to apply Christian teaching to the resolution of social problems presaged the social gospel of the late nineteenth century. Converts were taught that to achieve salvation, they needed not only to repent for personal sin but also work for the moral perfection of society, which meant eradicating sin in all its forms. Thus, evangelical converts were leading figures in a variety of nineteenth-century reform movements.

Reforms took the shape of social movements for temperance, women’s rights, and the abolition of slavery. Social activists began efforts to reform prisons and care for the handicapped and mentally ill. They believed in the perfectibility of people and were highly moralistic in their endeavors. Many participants in the revival meetings believed that reform was a part of God’s plan. As a result, local churches saw their role in society as purifying the world through the individuals to whom they could bring salvation, as well as through changes in the law and the creation of institutions. Interest in transforming the world was applied to political action, as temperance activists, antislavery advocates, and proponents of other variations of reform sought to implement their beliefs into national politics. While religion had previously played an important role on the American political scene, the Second Great Awakening highlighted the important role which individual beliefs would play.

2.2 – Unitarianism and Universalism

Unitarianism and Universalism were early Christian denominations that spread quickly during the nineteenth century.

2.2.1 – Unitarianism

Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement named for its understanding of God as one person (in direct contrast to Trinitarianism, which defines God as three persons coexisting as one in being). Thus, Unitarians adhere to strict monotheism, maintaining that Jesus was a great man and a prophet of God but not God himself. Unitarianism began in Poland and Transylvania in the late sixteenth century and had reached England by the mid-seventeenth century.

As early as the middle of the eighteenth century, a number of clergymen in New England preached what was essentially Unitarianism. The most prominent of these men was Jonathan Mayhew (1720–1766), pastor of the West Church in Boston, who preached the strict unity of God, the subordinate nature of Christ, and salvation by character. Charles Chauncy (1705–1787), pastor of the First Church from 1727 until his death, was both a Unitarian and a Universalist.

The first official acceptance of the Unitarian faith on the part of a congregation was by King’s Chapel in Boston, which revised the prayer book into a mild Unitarian liturgy in 1785. From 1725 to 1825, Unitarianism gained ground in New England and other areas. Beginning in 1805, Unitarian books appeared by John Sherman and Noah Worcester. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, with one exception, all of the churches of Boston were occupied by Unitarian preachers, and various periodicals and organizations expressed Unitarian opinions. Churches were established in New York, Baltimore, Washington, Charleston, and elsewhere during this period.

The Brattle Street Church in Boston, ca. 1859: Boston was the center of Unitarian activity in America, and the Brattle Street Church was a prominent Unitarian venue.

The period of American Unitarianism from about 1800 to 1835 can be thought of as formative, mainly influenced by English philosophy, semi-supernatural, imperfectly rationalistic, and devoted to philanthropy and practical Christianity. In 1800, Joseph Stevens Buckminster became minister of the Brattle Street Church in Boston, where his sermons and literary activities helped shape the subsequent growth of Unitarianism in New England. Unitarian Henry Ware was appointed as the Hollis professor of divinity at Harvard College in 1805, and Harvard Divinity school then shifted from its conservative roots to teach Unitarian theology.

Rev. Joseph Stevens Buckminster, influential Unitarian preacher: Joseph Buckminster’s preaching and texts greatly influenced American Unitarian thought.

Buckminster’s close associate William Ellery Channing became the leader of the Unitarian movement. At first mystical rather than rationalist in his theology, he took part with the “Catholic Christians,” as they called themselves, who aimed at bringing Christianity into harmony with the progressive spirit of the time. His essays, “The System of Exclusion and Denunciation in Religion” (1815) and “Objections to Unitarian Christianity Considered” (1819) made him a defender of Unitarianism.

The result of the “Unitarian Controversy” in 1815 was a growing division in the Congregational churches, which was emphasized in 1825 by the formation of the American Unitarian Association at Boston. The association published books, supported poor churches, sent out missionaries, and established new churches in nearly every state.

2.2.2 – Universalism

The Universalist Church of America, which held that all human beings may be saved through Jesus Christ and would come to harmony in God’s kingdom, emerged in the late eighteenth century from a mixture of Anabaptists, Moravians, liberal Quakers, and people influenced by Pietist movements such as Methodism. Americans from these religious backgrounds gradually created a new denominational tradition of Christian Universalism during the nineteenth century. The Universalist Church of America grew to be the sixth-largest denomination in the United States at its peak.

John Murray, who is called the “Father of American Universalism,” was a central figure in the founding of the Universalist Church of America in 1793. He served as pastor of the Universalist Society of Boston and wrote many hymns. Another important figure in early American Christian Universalism was George de Benneville, a French Huguenot preacher and physician who was imprisoned for advocating Universalism and later emigrated to Pennsylvania, where he continued preaching on the subject. Noted for his friendly and respectful relationship with American Indians and his pluralistic and multicultural view of spiritual truth, George de Benneville was well ahead of his time.

Other significant early modern Christian Universalist leaders included Elhanan Winchester, a Baptist preacher who wrote several books promoting the universal salvation of all souls after a period in purgatory and founded a church that ministered to African-American slaves in South Carolina; Hosea Ballou, a Universalist preacher in New England; and Hannah Whitall Smith, a writer and evangelist from a Quaker background who was active in the women’s suffrage and temperance movements.

2.3 – Women and Church Governance

2.3.1 – Women and the Second Great Awakening

Women made up the majority of the converts during the Second Great Awakening and therefore played a crucial role in its development and focus. It is not clear why women converted in larger numbers than men. Several scholarly theories attribute the large number of conversions in part to women’s assumption of greater religiosity. Conversion allowed women to shape identities and form community in a time of economic and personal insecurity and to assert themselves even in the face of male disapproval. Conversion may even have served as a reaction to the perceived sinfulness of youthful frivolity. Some women, especially in the South, encountered opposition to their conversion from their husbands and had to choose between submission to God or to the head of the household. While there is no single reason women joined the revival movement, the revival provided many women with shared experiences. Church membership and religious activity gave women peer support and a place for meaningful activity outside of the home.

2.3.2 – Informal Leadership

While they constituted the majority of converts and participants, women were not formally indoctrinated and did not hold leading ministerial positions. They did occasionally take on public roles during revivals. They preached or prayed aloud on rare occasions, but they were more likely to give testimonials of their conversion experience or work through the conversion process directly with sinners (who could be male or female). Women’s prayer was seen by leaders such as Charles Finney as a crucial aspect in preparing a community for revival and improving the revival’s efficacy.

Charles Grandison Finney, evangelist preacher: During the Second Great Awakening, progressively minded western evangelists, led by Charles Finney, challenged the establishment’s restrictions on women’s participation in the church.

Though they typically held no formal leadership roles, women became very important informally in the process of conversion and in the religious upbringing of their children through family structure and through their maternal roles. During the period of the revivals, mothers—who were seen as the moral and spiritual foundation of the family—used their teaching and influence to pass religion to their children.

The rising number of women congregants influenced the doctrine preached by ministers as well. In an effort to give sermons that would resonate with the congregation, Christ was gradually “feminized” in this period to stress his humility and forgiveness.

2.3.3 – Early Organizing

Despite the influential part they played in the Second Great Awakening, these women still largely acted within their “status quo” roles as mothers and wives. The change in women’s roles came mostly from their participation in increasingly formalized missionary and reform societies. During the antebellum period, the Second Great Awakening inspired advocacy for a number of reform topics, including women’s rights. Antebellum reform in areas such as women’s rights was affected not only by political enthusiasm, but also by religious or spiritual enthusiasm. Women’s prayer groups were an early and socially acceptable form of women’s organization. Through their positions in these organizations, women played a role outside of the domestic sphere.

2.4 – Frontier Revivals

In the newly settled frontier regions, the revivals of the Second Great Awakening took the form of camp meetings. These meetings were often the first experience settlers had with organized religion. The camp meeting was a religious service of several days’ length involving multiple preachers. Settlers in thinly populated areas would gather at the camp meeting for fellowship. The sheer exhilaration of participating in a religious revival, with crowds of hundreds and perhaps thousands of people, inspired the dancing, shouting, and singing associated with these events.

The revivals typically followed an arc of great emotional power and emphasized the individual’s sins and need to turn to Christ, and subsequent personal salvation. Upon their return home, most converts joined or created small local churches, which resulted in rapid growth for small religious institutions. With the effort of such leaders as Barton W. Stone (1772–1844) and Alexander Campbell (1788–1866), the camp meeting revival became a major mode of church expansion for denominations such as the Methodists and Baptists.

Methodist camp meeting: Camp meetings were multi-day affairs with multiple preachers, often attracting thousands of worshippers. They were an integral part of the frontier expansion of the Second Great Awakening.

One of the early camp meetings took place in July 1800 at Gasper River Church in southwestern Kentucky. A much larger gathering was later held at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1801, attracting perhaps as many as 20,000 people. Numerous Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist ministers participated in the services. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church emerged in Kentucky, and Cane Ridge was instrumental in fostering what became known as the “Restoration Movement,” which was made up of nondenominational churches committed to what they saw as the original, fundamental Christianity of the New Testament. They were committed to individuals achieving a personal relationship with Christ.

2.5 – Charles Finney and the Burned-Over District

2.5.1 – Introduction

Map of the “Burned-Over District”: The “Burned-Over District” of upstate New York, covering an area from approximately Buffalo to the eastern shores of Lake Erie.

The “Burned-Over District” refers to the religious scene in early nineteenth-century western and central New York, where religious revivals and Pentecostal movements of the Second Great Awakening took place. The term was coined in 1876 by Charles Grandison Finney, who argued that the area had been so heavily evangelized as to have no “fuel” (unconverted population) left over to “burn” (convert).

2.5.2 – Charles Finney

Charles Grandison Finney (August 29, 1792–August 16, 1875) was a leader in the Second Great Awakening and has been called “The Father of Modern Revivalism.” Finney was an innovative revivalist, an opponent of Old School Presbyterian theology, an advocate of Christian Perfectionism, a pioneer in social reforms in favor of women and African Americans, a religious writer, and president at Oberlin College.

Born in 1792 in western New York, Finney studied to be a lawyer until 1821, when he experienced a religious conversion and thereafter devoted himself to revivals. He led revival meetings in New York and Pennsylvania, but his greatest success occurred after he accepted a ministry in Rochester, New York, in 1830. At the time, Rochester was a boomtown because the Erie Canal had brought a lively shipping business.

The new middle class—an outgrowth of the Industrial Revolution—embraced Finney’s message. It fit perfectly with their understanding of themselves as people shaping their own destiny. Workers also latched onto the message that they, too, could control their salvation, spiritually and perhaps financially. Intense flames of religious fervor swept the area of western New York during this time, in large part due to Finney’s work.

2.5.3 – Religious Movements in Western New York

Western New York still had a frontier quality at the time, making professional and established clergy scarce. This contributed to the piety of the area and many of the self-taught qualities found in folk religion. Besides producing many mainline Protestant converts, especially in nonconformist sects, the area spawned a number of innovative religious movements, all founded by laypeople during the early nineteenth century.

Joseph Smith, Jr., founded the Latter Day Saint movement, which later gave rise to Mormonism. The Fox sisters conducted some of the first table-rapping seances and helped inspire Spiritualism. The first communal Shaker farm was established in this area of New York during this period. William Miller and his followers, called Millerites, believed that the Second Coming would occur on October 22, 1844. Miller is credited with beginning the religious movement now known as “Adventism,” and several major religious denominations are his direct spiritual heirs, such as Seventh-day Adventists and Advent Christians.

2.6 – The Mormons

2.6.1 – The Development of Mormonism

Joseph Smith, Jr.: Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, which gave rise to Mormonism.

Mormonism is the principal branch of the Latter Day Saint religious and cultural movement. The movement began with the visions of Joseph Smith, Jr., in the “Burned-Over District” of upstate New York, which was so called for the intense flames of religious revival that swept across the region.

Smith came from a large Vermont family that had not prospered in the new market economy and moved to the town of Palmyra, New York. In 1823, Smith claimed to have to been visited by the angel Moroni, who told him the location of a trove of golden plates or tablets. During the late 1820s, Smith translated the writing on the golden plates, and in 1830, he published his finding as The Book of Mormon. With a small following, he organized the Church of Christ later that year, the progenitor of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints popularly known as “Mormons.” He presented himself as a prophet and aimed to recapture what he viewed as the purity of the primitive Christian church—purity he believed had been lost over the centuries. To Smith, this meant restoring male leadership.

Smith emphasized the importance of families being ruled by fathers. His vision of a reinvigorated patriarchy resonated with men and women who had not thrived during the market revolution, and his claims attracted those who hoped for a better future. Smith’s new church placed great emphasis on work and discipline. He aimed to create a New Jerusalem where the church would exercise oversight of its members.

2.6.2 – Moving Westward: The Mormon Exodus

After the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in 1830, members were often harshly treated by their neighbors, partially due to their religious beliefs and sometimes as a reaction against the actions and the words of the LDS Church and its members and leaders. This harsh treatment caused the body of the Church to move—first from New York to Ohio, then to Missouri, and then to Illinois, where church members built the city of Nauvoo.

Smith’s claims of translating the golden plates antagonized his neighbors in New York. Difficulties with anti-Mormons led him and his followers to move to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831. By 1838, as the United States experienced continued economic turbulence following the Panic of 1837, Smith and his followers were facing financial collapse after a series of efforts in banking and moneymaking ended in disaster. They moved to Missouri, but trouble soon developed there as well, as citizens reacted against the Mormons’ beliefs. The 1838 Mormon War with other Missouri settlers ensued, culminating in the expulsion of adherents from the state. After leaving Missouri, Smith built the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, near which he was assassinated in 1844.

After Smith’s death, a succession crisis ensued, and a majority voted to accept the Quorum of the Twelve, led by Brigham Young, as the church’s leading body. The assassination of Smith made it clear the faith could not remain in Nauvoo—which the church had purchased, improved, renamed, and developed. The Mormon exodus began in 1846 when, in the face of these conflicts, Young decided to abandon Nauvoo and establish a new home for the church in the Great Basin. According to church belief, God inspired Young to call for the Saints (as church members call themselves) to organize and head west, beyond the western frontier of the United States (into what was then Mexico, though the U.S. Army had already captured New Mexico and California in late 1846).

Young led his followers along the Mormon Trail, a 1,300-mile route that Mormon pioneers traveled from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City, Utah. The journey, taken by about 70,000 people, began with church fathers sending out advanced parties in March of 1846. In the spring of 1847, Young led the vanguard company to the Salt Lake Valley, which was then outside the boundaries of the United States and which later became Utah. The period (including the flight from Missouri in 1838 to Nauvoo) known as the “Mormon Exodus” is, by convention among social scientists, traditionally assumed to have ended with the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. Wagon train migrations to the far west continued sporadically until the twentieth century, but not everyone could afford to uproot and transport a family by railroad, and the transcontinental railroad network only serviced limited main routes.

2.6.3 – Mormon Practices

Today a vast majority of Mormons are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), while a minority are members of other churches. Some Mormons are also either independent or non-practicing. Utah is the center of Mormon cultural influence, and North America has more Mormons than any other continent, though the majority of Mormons live outside the United States.

Mormons have developed a strong sense of community that stems from their doctrine and history. During the 1800s, Mormon converts tended to gather to a central geographic location. Between 1852 and 1890, many Mormons openly practiced plural marriage, a form of religious polygamy. Mormons dedicate large amounts of time and resources to serving in their church, and many young Mormons choose to serve a full-time proselytizing mission. Mormons have a health code that eschews alcoholic beverages, tobacco, coffee, tea, and other addictive substances. They tend to be very family-oriented and have strong connections across generations and with extended family. Mormons also follow strict laws of chastity, requiring abstention from sexual relations outside of marriage and strict fidelity within marriage.

Mormons self-identify as Christian, though some of their beliefs differ from mainstream Christianity. Mormons believe in the Bible, as well as other books of scripture, such as the Book of Mormon. They have a unique view of cosmology and believe that all people are spirit children of God. Mormons believe that returning to God requires following the example of Jesus Christ and accepting his atonement through ordinances such as baptism. They believe that Christ’s church was restored through Joseph Smith and is guided by living prophets and apostles. The belief that God speaks to his children and answers their prayers is central to Mormon faith.

3 – The Emergence of American Literature

3.1 – Introduction

During the mid-nineteenth century, many American literary masterpieces were produced. Sometimes called the “American Renaissance” (a term coined by the scholar F.O. Matthiessen), this period encompasses (approximately) the 1820s to the dawn of the Civil War, and it has been closely identified with American romanticism and transcendentalism.

Often considered a movement centered in New England, the American Renaissance was inspired in part by a new focus on humanism as a way to move from Calvinism. Literary nationalists at this time were calling for a movement that would develop a unique American literary style to distinguish American literature from British literature. The American Renaissance is characterized by renewed national self-confidence and a feeling that the United States was the heir to Greek democracy, Roman law, and Renaissance humanism. The American preoccupation with national identity (or nationalism) in this period was expressed by modernism, technology, and academic classicism, a major facet of which was literature.

Protestantism shaped the views of the vast majority of Americans in the antebellum years. Alongside the religious fervor during this time, transcendentalists advocated a more direct knowledge of the self and an emphasis on individualism. The writers and thinkers devoted to transcendentalism, as well as the reactions against it, created a trove of writings, an outpouring that became what has now been termed the “American Renaissance.”

3.2 – Major Literary Works

3.2.1 – Transcendalist Writers

Walt Whitman, American poet and essayist: Walt Whitman was a highly influential American writer. His American epic, Leaves of Grass, celebrates the common person.

Many writers were drawn to transcendentalism, and they started to express its ideas through new stories, poems, essays, and articles. The ideas of transcendentalism were able to permeate American thought and culture through a prolific print culture, which allowed the wide dissemination of magazines and journals. Ralph Waldo Emerson emerged as the leading figure of this movement. In 1836, he published “Nature,” an essay arguing that humans can find their true spirituality in nature, not in the everyday bustling working world of Jacksonian democracy and industrial transformation. In 1841, Emerson published his essay “Self-Reliance,” which urges readers to think for themselves and reject the mass conformity and mediocrity taking root in American life.

Emerson’s ideas struck a chord with a class of literate adults who also were dissatisfied with mainstream American life and searching for greater spiritual meaning. Among those attracted to Emerson’s ideas was his friend Henry David Thoreau, whom Emerson encouraged to write about his own ideas. In 1849, Emerson published his lecture “Civil Disobedience” and urged readers to refuse to support a government that was immoral. In 1854, he published Walden; or, Life in the Woods, a book about the two years he spent in a small cabin on Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts.

Walt Whitman also added to the transcendentalist movement, most notably with his 1855 publication of twelve poems, entitled Leaves of Grass, which celebrated the subjective experience of the individual. One of the poems, “Song of Myself,” emphasized individualism, which for Whitman, was a goal achieved by uniting the individual with all other people through a transcendent bond.

3.2.2 – Other Writers

Some critics took issue with transcendentalism’s emphasis on rampant individualism by pointing out the destructive consequences of compulsive human behavior. Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick; or, The Whale emphasized the perils of individual obsession by telling the tale of Captain Ahab’s single-minded quest to kill a white whale, Moby Dick, which had destroyed Ahab’s original ship and caused him to lose one of his legs. Edgar Allan Poe, a popular author, critic, and poet, decried, “the so-called poetry of the so-called transcendentalists.” These American writers who questioned transcendentalism illustrate the underlying tension between individualism and conformity in American life. Other notable works from this time period include Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851).

Nathaniel Hawthorne, American novelist: Hawthorne was among the foremost American writers of the era, achieving critical and popular success with novels such as The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.

As often happens, historians emphasize the works produced by white men during the American Renaissance, but many African Americans and women produced great literary works, too. Emily Dickinson began writing poetry in the 1830s, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) rose to a prominent reputation in the late 1970s. African-American literature during this time, including slave narratives by such writers as Frederick Douglass and early novels by William Wells Brown, has gained increasing recognition as well.

3.3 – Romanticism in America

American Romanticism emphasized emotion, individualism, and personality over rationalism and the constraints of religion.

3.3.1 – Introduction

The European Romantic movement reached America during the early 19th century. Like the Europeans, the American Romantics demonstrated a high level of moral enthusiasm, commitment to individualism and the unfolding of the self, an emphasis on intuitive perception, and the assumption that the natural world was inherently good while human society was filled with corruption.

Romanticism became popular in American politics, philosophy, and art. The movement appealed to the revolutionary spirit of America as well as to those longing to break free of the strict religious traditions of the early settlement period. The Romantics rejected rationalism and religious intellect. It appealed especially to opponents of Calvinism, a Protestant sect that believes the destiny of each individual is preordained by God.

3.3.2 – Relation to Transcendentalism

The Romantic movement gave rise to New England transcendentalism, which portrayed a less restrictive relationship between God and the universe. The new philosophy presented the individual with a more personal relationship with God. Transcendentalism and Romanticism appealed to Americans in a similar fashion; both privileged feeling over reason and individual freedom of expression over the restraints of tradition and custom. Romanticism often involved a rapturous response to nature and promised a new blossoming of American culture.

3.3.3 – Romantic Themes

The Romantic movement in America was widely popular and influenced American writers such as James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving. Novels, short stories, and poems replaced the sermons and manifestos of earlier days. Romantic literature was personal and intense; it portrayed more emotion than ever seen in neoclassical literature.

America’s preoccupation with freedom became a great source of motivation for Romantic writers, as many were delighted in free expression and emotion without fear of ridicule and controversy. They also put more effort into the psychological development of their characters, and the main characters typically displayed extremes of sensitivity and excitement. The works of the Romantic Era also differed from preceding works in that they spoke to a wider audience, partly reflecting the greater distribution of books as costs came down and literacy rose during the period. The Romantic period also saw an increase in female authors and readers.

3.3.4 – Prominent Romantic Writers

  

[LEFT]: Washington Irving, American Writer and Historian: Washington Irving’s writings, such as the Legends of Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow, contained romantic elements such as the celebration of nature and romantic virtues such as simplicity.
[RIGHT]: James Fenimore Cooper, American novelist and political writer: In his popular novels, such as Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper expressed romantic ideals about the relationship between men and nature.

Romantic poetry in the United States can be seen as early as 1818 with William Cullen Bryant’s “To a Waterfowl”. American Romantic Gothic literature made an early appearance with Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) and Rip Van Winkle (1819), followed from 1823 onwards by the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper. In his popular novel Last of the Mohicans, Cooper expressed romantic ideals about the relationship between men and nature. These works had an emphasis on heroic simplicity and fervent landscape descriptions of an already-exotic mythicized frontier peopled by “noble savages”. Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of the macabre and his balladic poetry were more influential in France than at home, but the romantic American novel developed fully with the atmosphere and melodrama of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850).

Later transcendentalist writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson still show elements of its influence and imagination, as does the romantic realism of Walt Whitman. Emerson, a leading transcendentalist writer, was highly influenced by romanticism, especially after meeting leading figures in the European romantic movement in the 1830s. He is best known for his romantic-influenced essays such as “Nature” (1836) and “Self-Reliance” (1841). The poetry of Emily Dickinson—nearly unread in her own time—and Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick can be taken as epitomes of American Romantic literature. By the 1880s, however, psychological and social realism were competing with Romanticism in the novel.

3.4 – Newspapers

3.4.1 – Introduction

November 16, 1864 edition of the New York Tribune: Some penny papers were closely associated with political parties; the New York Tribune backed the Whigs and later the Republicans.

During the middle of the nineteenth century, newspapers changed from being mouthpieces of political parties to serving a broader public appeal. Many of the changes that came with this shift brought about new features of journalism that remain important today, such as the editorial page, personal interviews, business news, and foreign-news correspondents.

Many newspapers in the early part of the nineteenth century were published by political parties and served as political mouthpieces for the beliefs and candidates of those parties. Over the next few decades, however, the influence of these “administrative organs” began to fade away. Newspapers and their editors began to show greater personal and editorial influence as they realized the broader appeal of human-interest stories.

3.4.2 – Birth of Editorial Comment

The editorial voice of each newspaper grew more distinct and important, and the editorial page began to assume something of its modern form. The editorial signed with a pseudonym gradually died, but unsigned editorial comment and leading articles did not become established features until after 1814, when Nathan Hale made them characteristic of the newly established Boston Daily Advertiser. From then on, these features grew in importance until they became the most vital part of the greater papers.

3.4.3 – News Becomes Widespread

Nearly every county and large town sponsored at least one weekly newspaper. Politics were of major interest, with the editor-owner typically deeply involved in local party organizations. However, the papers also contained local news, and presented literary columns and book excerpts that catered to an emerging middle class and literate audience. A typical rural newspaper provided its readers with a substantial source of national and international news and political commentary, typically reprinted from metropolitan newspapers. In addition, the major metropolitan dailies often prepared weekly editions for circulation to the countryside.

Systems of more rapid news-gathering and distribution quickly appeared. The telegraph, put to successful use during the Mexican-American War, led to numerous far-reaching results in journalism. Its greatest effect was to decentralize the press by rendering the inland papers (in such cities as Chicago, Louisville, Cincinnati, and New Orleans) independent of those in Washington and New York. The news field was immeasurably broadened; news style was improved, and the introduction of interviews, with their dialogue and direct quotations, imparted papers with an ease and freshness. There was a notable improvement in the reporting of business, markets, and finance. A foreign-news service was developed that reached the highest standard yet attained in American journalism in terms of intelligence and general excellence.

This idea of the newspaper for its own sake, the unprecedented aggressiveness in news-gathering, and the blatant methods by which the cheap papers were popularized, aroused the antagonism of the older papers, but created a competition that could not be ignored. The growth of these newer papers meant the development of great staffs of workers that exceeded in numbers anything dreamed of in the preceding period. Indeed, the years between 1840 and 1860 saw the beginnings of the scope, complexity, and excellence of our modern journalism.

3.5 – The Penny Press

3.5.1 – Background

In the early 1800s, newspapers had catered largely to the elite and took two forms: mercantile sheets that were intended for the business community and contained ship schedules, wholesale product prices, advertisements and some stale foreign news; and political newspapers that were controlled by political parties or their editors as a means of sharing their views with elite stakeholders. Journalists reported the party line and editorialized in favor of party positions.

3.5.2 – Appealing to the Commoner

Some editors believed in a public who would not buy a serious paper at any price; they believed the common person had a vast and indiscriminate curiosity better satisfied with gossip than discussion and with sensation rather than fact, and who could be reached through their appetites and passions. To this end, the “penny press” papers, which sold for one cent per copy, were introduced in the 1830s. Penny press newspapers became an important form of popular entertainment in the mid-nineteenth century, taking the form of cheap, tabloid-style papers. As the East Coast’s middle and working classes grew, so did the new public’s desire for news, and penny papers emerged as a cheap source that covered crime, tragedy, adventure, and gossip. They depended much more on advertising than on high priced subscriptions, and they often aimed their articles at broad public interests instead of at perceived upper-class tastes.

Mass production of inexpensive newspapers became possible when technology shifted from handcrafted to steam-powered printing. The penny paper was famous for costing one cent, unlike its competitors, which could cost as much as six cents. This cheap newspaper was revolutionary because it made the news available to lower-class citizens for a reasonable price. To be profitable at such a low price, these papers needed large circulations and feature advertisements; they needed to target a public who had not been accustomed to buying papers and who would be attracted by news of the street, shop, and factory.

3.5.3 – The Sun and the Herald

Benjamin Day, an important and innovative publisher of penny newspapers, introduced a new type of sensationalism: a reliance on human-interest stories. He emphasized common people as they were reflected in the political, educational, and social life of the day. Day also introduced a new way of selling papers, known as the London Plan, in which newsboys hawked their newspapers on the streets. Penny papers hired reporters and correspondents to seek out and write the news, and the news began to sound more journalistic than editorial. Reporters were assigned to beats and were involved in the conduct of local interaction.

The newspaper, The New York Sun: Benjamin Day’s newspaper, The New York Sun.

James Gordon Bennett’s newspaper The New York Herald added another dimension to penny press papers that is now common in journalistic practice. Whereas newspapers had generally relied on documents as sources, Bennett introduced the practices of observation and interviewing to provide stories with more vivid details. Bennett is known for redefining the concept of news, reorganizing the news business, and introducing newspaper competition. The New York Herald was financially independent of politicians because it had large numbers of advertisers.

3.5.4 – Abolition: A Thorny Issue

In a period of widespread unrest and social change, many specialized forms of journalism sprang up, focusing on religious, educational, agricultural, and commercial themes. During this time, workingmen were questioning the justice of existing economic systems and raising a new labor issues; Unitarianism and transcendentalism were creating and expressing new spiritual values; temperance, prohibition, and the political status of women were being discussed; and abolitionists were growing more vocal, becoming the subject of controversy most critically related to journalism. Some reform movements published their own newspapers, and abolitionist papers in particular were met with a great deal of controversy as they rallied against slavery.

The abolitionist press, which began with The Emancipator of 1820 and had its chief representative in William Lloyd Garrison ‘s Liberator, forced the slavery question upon the newspapers, and a struggle for the freedom of the press ensued. Many abolitionist papers were excluded from the mails, and their circulation was forcibly prevented in the South. In Boston, New York, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and elsewhere, editors were assaulted, and offices were attacked and destroyed.

4 – Educational Reforms

4.1 – Reforms

Horace Mann championed education reform that helped to expand state-sponsored public education in the 1800s.

4.1.1 – History of Education in the United States

Prior to the first and second Industrial Revolutions, education opportunities in the 13 colonies during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries varied considerably depending on one’s location, race, gender, and social class. Basic education in literacy and numeracy was widely available, especially to white males residing in the northern and middle colonies, and the literacy rate was relatively high among these people. Educational opportunities were much sparser in the rural South.

Education in the United States had long been a local affair, with schools governed by locally elected school boards. Public education was common in New England, although it was often class-based with the working class receiving few benefits. Instruction and curriculum were all locally determined, and teachers were expected to meet rigorous demands of strict moral behavior. Schools taught religious values and applied Calvinist philosophies of discipline, which included corporal punishment and public humiliation.

Excerpt from the New England Primer of 1690: Prior to nineteenth-century reform, education was often the province of sectarian religious institutions, as evidenced in the religious bent of this popular textbook.

The public education system was less organized in the South. Public schools were rare, and most education took place in the home with the family acting as instructors. The wealthier planter families were able to bring in tutors for instruction in the classics, but many yeoman farming families had little access to education outside of the family unit.

4.1.2 – Horace Mann and Educational Reform

Education reform, championed by Horace Mann, helped to bring about state-sponsored public education, including a statewide curriculum and a local property tax to finance public education. By the year 1870, all states had free elementary schools and the U.S. population boasted one of the highest literacy rates at the time. Private academies flourished in towns across the country, but rural areas (where most people lived) had few schools before the 1880s. By the close of the 1800s, public secondary schools began to outnumber private ones.

4.1.3 – Horace Mann

The reform movement began in Massachusetts when Horace Mann (May 4, 1796–August 2, 1859) started the common-school movement. Mann served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1827–1833 and the Massachusetts Senate from 1834–1837. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1848 after serving as secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education. He is often called “the father of American public education.”

Arguing that universal public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens, Mann won widespread approval from modernizers, especially in his Whig Party, for building public schools. Most states adopted one version or another of the system he established in Massachusetts, especially the program for “normal schools” to train professional teachers.

4.1.4 – Common Schools

The McGuffey Reader: With 120 million copies sold since 1836, McGuffey Readers taught many American children to read.

A “common school” was a public, often one-roomed school in the United States or Canada in the 1800s. The term was coined by Horace Mann and refers to the school’s aim to serve individuals of all social classes and religions. Students often went to the common school from ages six to fourteen (correlating to grades 1–8). The duration of the school year was often dictated by the agricultural needs of particular communities, with children on vacation from school when they needed to work on the family farm. Common schools were funded by local taxes, did not charge tuition, and were open to all white children. Each district was typically controlled by an elected local school board; a county school superintendent or regional director was usually elected to supervise day-to-day activities of several common-school districts.

Mann’s work revolutionized the approach of the common-school system of Massachusetts, which in turn influenced the direction of other states. In 1838, he founded and edited The Common School Journal. In this journal, Mann targeted the problems of public schools. Mann hoped that by bringing children of all classes together, they could share a common learning experience. This would also give the less fortunate an opportunity to advance in society. Mann met with bitter opposition from some Boston schoolmasters who strongly disapproved of his innovative pedagogical ideas and from various religious sectarians who argued against the exclusion of all sectarian instruction from the schools.

Mann advocated a statewide curriculum and instituted school financing through local property taxes. Mann also fought protracted battles against the Calvinist influence on discipline, preferring positive reinforcement to physical punishment. Most children during that time learned to read, write, and spell from Noah Webster’s Blue Backed Speller and later the McGuffey Readers. The readings inculcated moral values as well as literacy. Kindergartens and the gymnasium were introduced by German immigrants, while Yankee orators sponsored the lyceum movement that provided, via lectures, popular education for hundreds of towns and small cities. Mann later advocated the Prussian model of schooling, which included the technique of age grading—students were assigned by age to different grades and progressed through them. Some students progressed with their grade and completed all courses the secondary school had to offer. These students were “graduated,” and awarded a certificate of completion.

4.1.5 – Parochial Schools

From 1750–1870, American Catholic parochial schools appeared as ad hoc efforts by parishes, and most Catholic children attended public schools. In addition to Catholics, German Lutherans, Calvinist Dutch, and Orthodox Jews also began parochial schools. Starting from about 1876, 39 states (out of 50) passed a constitutional amendment to their state constitutions called the “Blaine Amendments” forbidding tax money to be used to fund parochial schools. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Ohio law allowing aid under specific circumstances.

4.1.6 – Morrill Land-Grant Acts

The Morrill Land-Grant Acts are U.S. statutes signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862, that allowed for the creation of land-grant colleges. For 20 years prior to the first introduction of the bill in 1857, there was a political movement calling for the creation of agriculture colleges. The movement was led by Professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner of Illinois College. On February 8, 1853, the Illinois Legislature adopted a resolution, drafted by Turner, calling for the Illinois congressional delegation to work to enact a land-grant bill to fund a system of industrial colleges—one in each state.

Under the act, each eligible state received a total of 30,000 acres of federal land, either within or contiguous with its boundaries, for each member of Congress held by the state. This land, or the proceeds from its sale, was to be used toward establishing and funding educational institutions. The land-grant college system produced the agricultural scientists and industrial engineers who were critical to the managerial revolution in government and business of 1862–1917, and laid the foundation for a preeminent educational infrastructure that supported the world’s foremost technology-based economy.

4.1.7 – Education for African Americans

In the era of Reconstruction after the Civil War, the Freedmen ‘s Bureau opened 1,000 schools across the South for black children. Schooling was a high priority for the Bureau, and enrollment was high and enthusiastic. Overall, the Bureau spent $5 million to set up schools for African Americans. By the end of 1865, more than 90,000 freedmen were enrolled as students in public schools. The school curriculum resembled that of schools in the North.

A second Morrill Act was later introduced in 1890 that required each state to show that race was not an admissions criterion, or else to designate a separate land-grant institution for persons of color. Among the 70 colleges and universities that eventually evolved from the Morrill Acts are several of today’s “Historically Black Colleges and Universities” (HBCUs).

4.2 – Early Public Schools

Early public schools in the United States took the form of “common schools,” which were meant to serve individuals of all social classes and religions.

4.2.1 – Introduction

Horace Mann, American educational reformer: Horace Mann was an influential reformer of education, responsible for the introduction of common schools—non-sectarian public schools open to children of all backgrounds—in America.

After the American Revolution, an emphasis was put on education, especially in the northern states, which rapidly established public schools. By the year 1870, all states had free elementary schools and the U.S. population boasted one of the highest literacy rates at the time. Private academies flourished in towns across the country, but rural areas (where most people lived) had few schools before the 1880s. By the close of the 1800s, public secondary schools began to outnumber private ones.

The earliest public schools were developed in the nineteenth century and were known as “common schools,” a term coined by American educational reformer Horace Mann that refers to the aim of these schools to serve individuals of all social classes and religions.

4.2.2 – The Common School

Students often went to common schools from ages six to fourteen, although this could vary widely. The duration of the school year was often dictated by the agricultural needs of particular communities, with children receiving time off from studies when they would be needed on the family farm. These schools were funded by local taxes, did not charge tuition, and were open to all white children. Typically, with a small amount of state oversight, an elected local school board controlled each district, traditionally with a county school superintendent or regional director elected to supervise day-to-day activities of several common school districts.

Because common schools were locally controlled and the United States was very rural in the nineteenth century, most common schools were small one-room centers. They usually had a single teacher who taught all of the students together, regardless of age. Common-school districts were nominally subject to their creator, either a county commission or a state regulatory agency.

Typical curricula consisted of “The Three Rs” (reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic), as well as history and geography. Grading methods varied (from 0–100 grading to no grades at all), but end-of-the-year recitations were a common way that parents were informed about what their children were learning.

Many education scholars mark the end of the common-school era around 1900. In the early 1900s, schools generally became more regional (as opposed to local), and control of schools moved away from elected school boards and toward professionals.

4.3 – Higher Education

4.3.1 – Introduction

During the nineteenth century, the nation’s many small colleges helped young men make the transition from rural farms to complex urban occupations. These colleges prepared ministers and provided towns across the country with a core of community leaders. The more elite colleges became increasingly exclusive and contributed relatively little toward upward social mobility. By concentrating on the offspring of wealthy families, ministers, and a few others, prestigious eastern colleges, especially Harvard, played an important role in the formation of a northeastern elite with great power.

4.3.2 – Morrill Land-Grant College Act

The Morrill Land-Grant College Act was a U.S. statute signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862, that allowed for the creation of land-grant colleges. For 20 years prior to the first introduction of the bill in 1857, a political movement, led by Professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner of Illinois College, called for the creation of agriculture colleges. On February 8, 1853, the Illinois Legislature adopted a resolution, drafted by Turner, calling for the Illinois congressional delegation to work to enact a land-grant bill to fund a system of industrial colleges in every state.

The Morrill Act was first proposed in 1857 and was passed by Congress in 1859. However, it was vetoed by President James Buchanan. In 1861, Morrill resubmitted the act with the amendment that the proposed institutions would teach military tactics as well as engineering and agriculture. Aided by the secession of many states that did not support the plans, this reconfigured Morrill Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862.

The purpose of the land-grant colleges was:

… without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.

Under the act, each eligible state received a total of 30,000 acres of federal land, either within or contiguous to its boundaries, for each member of Congress held by the state. This land, or the proceeds from its sale, was to be used toward establishing and funding the educational institutions described above. In reference to the recent secession of several Southern states and the currently raging American Civil War, the Act stipulated that, “No State while in a condition of rebellion or insurrection against the government of the United States shall be entitled to the benefit of this act.” After the war, however, the 1862 Act was extended to the former Confederate states; it was eventually extended to every state and territory, including those created after 1862.

If the federal land within a state was insufficient to meet that state’s land grant, the state was issued “scrip,” which authorized the state to select federal lands in other states to fund its institution. For example, New York carefully selected valuable timber land in Wisconsin to fund Cornell University. The 1862 Morrill Act allocated a total of 17.4 million acres of land, which, when sold, yielded a collective endowment of $7.55 million. The state of Iowa was the first to accept the terms of the Morrill Act, which provided the funding boost needed for the fledgling Ames College (now Iowa State University). With a few exceptions, including Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, nearly all of the Land-Grant Colleges are public. Cornell University, while private, administers several state-supported contract colleges that fulfill its public land-grant mission to the state of New York.

Kansas State University, 1878: Kansas State University was the first college funded by land grants under the Morrill Act of 1862.

The land-grant college system produced the agricultural scientists and industrial engineers who were critical to the managerial revolution in government and business of 1862–1917, and laid the foundation for a preeminent educational infrastructure that supported the world’s foremost technology-based economy.

4.3.3 – The Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania

The Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania (later the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania and then Pennsylvania State University), chartered in 1855, was intended to uphold declining agrarian values and show farmers ways to prosper through more productive farming. Students were to build character and meet a part of their expenses by performing agricultural labor. By 1875, the compulsory labor requirement was dropped, but male students were to have an hour a day of military training in order to meet the requirements of the Morrill Land-Grant College Act. In the early years, the agricultural curriculum was not well developed, and politicians in Harrisburg often considered it a costly and useless experiment. The college was a center of middle-class values that served to help young people on their journey to white-collar occupations.

4.3.4 – The Second Morrill Act of 1890

A second Morrill Act was later introduced in 1890 that required each state to show that race was not an admissions criterion, or else to designate a separate land-grant institution for persons of color. Among the 70 colleges and universities that eventually evolved from the Morrill Acts are several of today’s “Historically Black Colleges and Universities” (HBCUs).

5 – Immigration

5.1 – Introduction

5.1.1 – Immigration in the Nineteenth Century

There was relatively little immigration into the United States from 1770 to 1830. Large-scale immigration resumed in the 1830s from Britain, Ireland, Germany, and other parts of western Europe, and the pace of immigration accelerated in the 1840s and 1850s. Most immigrants were attracted by the cheap farmland available in the United States; some immigrants were artisans and skilled factory workers attracted by the first stage of industrialization. Poor economic conditions in Europe drove many people to seek land, freedom, opportunity, and jobs in the new nation of America.

5.1.2 – Immigration from Europe

Many new members of the working class came from the ranks of these immigrants, who brought new foods, customs, and religions. The Roman Catholic population of the United States, fairly small before this period, began to swell with the arrival of the Irish and the Germans. Many people immigrated from Ireland to work on infrastructure projects such as canals and railroads and settled in urban areas. Many Irish went to the emerging textile mill towns of the Northeast, while others became longshoremen in the growing Atlantic and Gulf port cities. About half of the immigrants from Germany headed to farms, especially in the Midwest and Texas, while the other half became craftsmen in urban areas.

Between 1841 and 1850, immigration nearly tripled, totaling 1,713,000 immigrants. The great potato famine in Ireland (1845–1849) drove the Irish to the United States in large numbers; they emigrated directly from their homeland to escape poverty and death. The failed Irish revolutions of 1848 brought many intellectuals and activists to exile in the United States.

5.1.3 – The California Gold Rush

Chinese gold miners in California: One impetus for immigration was the gold rush of 1849, which brought to California thousands of immigrants from Latin America, China, Australia, and Europe.

By 1848, thousands of California’s residents had gone north to the gold fields with visions of wealth, and in 1849, thousands of people from around the world followed them, marking the beginning of the gold rush. The California gold rush rapidly expanded the population of the new territory, attracting thousands of immigrants from Latin America, China, Australia, and Europe; it also prompted concerns about immigration, especially from China.

Foreigners were generally disliked, especially those from South America. The most discriminated against, however, were the thousands of Chinese immigrants. Eager to earn money to send to their families in Hong Kong and southern China, they quickly earned a reputation as frugal and hard workers who routinely took over diggings others had abandoned as worthless and worked them until every scrap of gold had been found. Many American miners, often spendthrifts, resented their presence and discriminated against them, believing the Chinese, who represented about 8 percent of the nearly 300,000 who arrived, were depriving them of the opportunity to make a living.

In 1850, California imposed a tax on foreign miners, and in 1858, it prohibited all immigration from China. Those Chinese who remained in the face of the growing hostility were often beaten and killed, and some Westerners made a sport of cutting off Chinese men’s queues, the long braids of hair worn down their backs. In 1882, Congress took up the power to restrict immigration by banning the further immigration of Chinese.

5.1.4 – Immigration and Worker Exploitation

As German and Irish immigrants poured into the United States in the decades preceding the Civil War, native-born laborers found themselves competing for jobs with new arrivals who were more likely to work longer hours for less pay. As a result, many wage workers in the North were largely hostile to immigration. In Lowell, Massachusetts, for example, the daughters of New England farmers encountered competition from the daughters of Irish farmers suffering the effects of the potato famine; these immigrant women were more likely to be exploited by employers, working for far less money and enduring worse conditions than native-born women. Male German and Irish immigrants also competed with native-born men. Germans, many of whom were skilled workers, took jobs in furniture making. The Irish provided a ready source of unskilled labor needed to lay railroad tracks and dig canals. American men with families to support grudgingly accepted low wages in order to keep their jobs. As work became increasingly deskilled, no worker was irreplaceable, and no one’s job was safe.

5.2 – Irish Immigration

A second wave of Irish Catholic immigration began in the 1840s following the potato famine in Ireland.

5.2.1 – Early Irish Immigrants

Protestant Irish immigrants from Ulster had been coming to British North America since the 1700s, and many had settled in the upland areas of the American interior. They participated in the American Revolution in large numbers and were a well-established community by the 1840s, when a second wave of Irish immigration began. At that time, descendants of the first wave of Irish immigration began to refer to themselves as “Scotch-Irish” to distinguish themselves from the newly arrived immigrants.

5.2.2 – The Potato Famine

Emigrants leaving Ireland: Irish immigration begin in the mid-eighteenth century and intensified during the great potato famine of 1845–1849.

The Irish potato famine (1845–1849) destroyed much of the potato crop in Ireland and sent the entire country into starvation. Many emigrated to America in order to escape poverty and death. These new Irish immigrants were primarily Catholic, and most became unskilled workers who settled in urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest such as Boston, New York, and Chicago. Many Irish went to the emerging textile- mill towns of the Northeast; some also migrated to the interior of America to work on large-scale infrastructure projects such as canals and railroads.

Graph of total population of Ireland: This graph shows the sharp decline in population in Ireland beginning in 1840. By 1855, almost 2 million Irish had emigrated.

By 1840, emigration had become a massive, relentless, and efficiently managed national enterprise. Including those who moved to Britain, between 9 and 10 million Irish people emigrated after 1700. The total flow was more than the population at its historical peak in the 1830s of 8.5 million. From 1830 to 1914, almost 5 million Irish traveled to the United States alone. In 1890, two of every five Irish-born people were living abroad. By the 2000s, an estimated 80 million people worldwide claimed some Irish descent; among them are 50 million Americans who claim “Irish” as their primary ethnicity.

5.2.3 – Discrimination and Assimilation

As Irish immigrants poured into the United States in the decades preceding the Civil War, native-born laborers found themselves competing for jobs with new arrivals who were more likely to work longer hours for less pay. In Lowell, Massachusetts, for example, the daughters of New England farmers encountered competition from the daughters of Irish farmers suffering the effects of the potato famine; these immigrant women were more easily exploited by employers, working for far less money and enduring worse conditions than native-born women. Male Irish immigrants also competed with native-born men. The Irish provided a ready source of unskilled labor needed to lay railroad tracks and dig canals. American men with families to support grudgingly accepted low wages in order to keep their jobs.

As work became increasingly deskilled, no worker was irreplaceable, and no one’s job was safe. The resulting job competition caused a general hostility toward Irish immigrants. Nineteenth-century Protestant American “nativist” discrimination against Irish Catholics reached a peak in the mid-1850s, when the Know-Nothing Party tried to oust Catholics from public office. Much of the opposition came from Irish Protestants, as in the 1831 riots in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the 1830s, riots for control of job sites broke out in rural areas between Irish and local American work teams competing for construction jobs. After 1860, many Irish sang songs about “NINA signs” reading, “Help wanted—no Irish need apply.”

5.2.4 – Effects on American Culture

The Irish had a huge impact on America as a whole. Even today, many major cities in the United States retain a substantial Irish American community. Massachusetts mill towns such as Lawrence, Lowell, and Pawtucket attracted many Irish women in particular. The anthracite-coal region of northeastern Pennsylvania saw a massive influx of Irish during this time period; conditions in the mines eventually gave rise to groups and secret societies such as the Molly Maguires. As they assimilated, Irish Americans contributed to U.S. culture in a wide variety of fields, such as the fine and performing arts, film, literature, politics, sports, and religion.

5.3 – German Immigration

5.3.1 – Introduction

The largest flow of German immigration to America occurred between 1820 and World War I, during which time nearly six million Germans immigrated to the United States. From 1840 to 1880, they were the largest group of immigrants to the United States. Following the Revolutions of 1848 in Germany, a wave of political refugees fled to America who became known as “Forty-Eighters.” They included professionals, journalists, and politicians. Prominent Forty-Eighters included Carl Schurz and Henry Villard.

5.3.2 – Location of German Communities

This map shows the large number of German Americans in 1872 in the United States and their concentration in the northern region of the country.

The cities of Milwaukee, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, New York, and Baltimore were favored destinations of German immigrants. Many communities acquired distinctive names suggesting their heritage, such as the “Over-the-Rhine” district in Cincinnati and the “German Village” in Columbus, Ohio. Milwaukee was once known as “the German Athens,” and radical Germans trained in politics in the old country dominated the city’s Socialists. Skilled workers produced many crafts, while entrepreneurs created the beer brewing industry; the most famous brands included Pabst, Schlitz, Miller, and Blatz.

While roughly half of German immigrants settled in cities, the other half established farms in the Midwest. From Ohio to the Plains states, a heavy presence of German heritage persists in rural areas today. Few Germans settled in the Deep South, apart from some in New Orleans.

5.3.3 – Politics and Role in Society

Sentiment among German Americans was largely antislavery, especially among Forty-Eighters. Hundreds of thousands of German Americans volunteered to fight for the Union in the American Civil War, making them the largest immigrant group to participate. Although only one in four Germans fought in all-German regiments, they created the public image of the German soldier.

Relatively few German Americans held office, but the men voted after they became citizens. In general during the Third Party System (1850s–1890s), the Protestants and Jews leaned toward the new Republican Party and the Catholics were strongly Democratic. When prohibition was on the ballot, the Germans voted solidly against it. In the late nineteenth century, many Germans in cities were socialists, and Germans played a significant role in the labor-union movement.

The Germans worked hard to maintain and cultivate their language, especially through newspapers and classes in elementary and high schools. German Americans in many cities, such as Milwaukee, brought their strong support of education, establishing German-language schools and teacher-training seminaries (Töchter-Institut) to prepare students and teachers in German-language training. By the late nineteenth century, the Germania Publishing Company—a publisher of books, magazines, and newspapers in German—was established in Milwaukee.

“Germania” was the common term for German-American neighborhoods and their organizations. Deutschtum was the term for transplanted German nationalism, both culturally and politically. Between 1875 and 1915, the German-American population in the United States doubled, and many of its members worked hard to maintain their culture. German was used in local schools and churches, while numerous Vereine—associations dedicated to literature, humor, gymnastics, and singing—sprang up in German-American communities. German Americans tended to support the German government’s actions, and, even after the United States entered World War I, they often voted for antidraft and antiwar candidates. Deutschtum in the United States disintegrated after 1918.

5.4 – Nativism

Nativism was an anti-immigration movement that favored those descended from the inhabitants of the original thirteen colonies.

5.4.1 – Anti-Immigration Sentiments

The large numbers of immigrants that came from dramatically different cultures during the middle of the nineteenth century sparked a number of anti-immigration movements. The largest of these movements was nativism, which took its name from the “Native American” parties. In this context, “native” did not mean indigenous or American Indian, but rather those descended from the inhabitants of the original British thirteen colonies. Nativists objected primarily to Irish Roman Catholics because of their loyalty to the Pope and because of their supposed rejection of the American ideal of republicanism. Nativism’s prejudice was not exclusive to Irish Catholics, however: German and Chinese immigrants also came under attack during the second half of the nineteenth century.

As German and Irish immigrants poured into the United States in the decades preceding the Civil War, native-born laborers also found themselves competing for jobs with new arrivals who were more likely to work longer hours for less pay. This job competition resulted in increased hostility toward immigrants; as work became increasingly deskilled, no worker was irreplaceable, and no one’s job was safe.

Nativist outbursts occurred in the Northeast from the 1830s to the 1850s, primarily in response to a surge of Irish Catholic immigration. In 1836, Samuel F.B. Morse ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York City on a Nativist ticket, receiving only 1,496 votes. Following the Philadelphia Nativist riots in the spring and summer of 1844, the Order of United Americans, a Nativist fraternity, was founded in New York City.

5.4.2 – The Know-Nothings

The Know-Nothings: The Know-Nothing Party’s platform included the repeal of all naturalization laws and a prohibition against immigrants holding public office.

By 1850, Charles B. Allen had founded a Nativist society called the “Order of the Star Spangled Banner” in New York City. In order to join the Order, a man had to be 21 years of age, a Protestant, a believer in God, and willing to obey without question the dictates of the Order. Members became known as the “Know-Nothings” because, if asked in public, they claimed to know nothing about the secret society. The anti-Catholic Know-Nothings wanted to extend the amount of time it took immigrants to become citizens and voters; they also wanted to prevent foreign-born people from ever holding public office.

5.4.3 – The American Party

The Nativists went public in 1854 when they formed the American Party, which was especially hostile to the immigration of Irish Catholics and campaigned for laws to require longer wait time between immigration and naturalization. The laws never passed. It was at this time that the term “nativist” first appeared; opponents denounced them as “bigoted nativists.” In the 1854 elections, Nativists won control of state governments in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and California. They won elections in Maryland and Kentucky and took 45 percent of the vote in five other states. In 1856, Millard Fillmore was the American Party candidate for president and trumpeted anti-immigrant themes. Nativism caused much splintering in the political landscape.

5.5 – Immigrant Labor

Many of the economic gains in the United States during the nineteenth century were made possible by immigrant labor.

5.5.1 – Introduction

Poster by the Houston and Texas Railroad advertising land for immigrants: Many immigrants were attracted to the United States by the availability of cheap farmland. In particular, large numbers of German immigrants became farmers in the United States.

Immigrants of the nineteenth century flocked to urban destinations, making up the bulk of the U.S. industrial labor pool. These new sources of labor profoundly influenced the emergence of the steel, coal, automobile, textile, and garment industries, increasing production and enabling the United States to leap into the front ranks of the world’s economies.

Many of the population and economic gains during the nineteenth century were made possible by immigration, as hundreds of thousands of people came from Europe, China, and Latin America seeking the job opportunities and the perceived prospect of a better life in America. Different immigrant groups tended to drift toward different occupations, depending on their background. The Irish provided mostly unskilled labor in factories, textile mills, and large infrastructure projects such as canals and railroads. Many Irish went to the emerging textile mill towns of the Northeast, while others became longshoremen in the growing Atlantic and Gulf port cities. Roughly half of the immigrants from Germany went to farms, especially in the Midwest and Texas, while the other half became craftsmen and entrepreneurs in urban areas.

5.5.2 – The California Gold Rush

In 1849, the California gold rush brought in more than 100,000 would-be miners from the eastern United States, Latin America, China, Australia, and Europe. California became a state in 1850 with a population of about 90,000. Many of the immigrants who came for the gold rush also stayed to work on large infrastructure projects such as the railroads.

5.5.3 – Exploitation and Discrimination

As German and Irish immigrants poured into the United States in the decades preceding the Civil War, native-born laborers found themselves competing for jobs with new arrivals who were more likely to work longer hours for less pay. In Lowell, Massachusetts, for example, the daughters of New England farmers encountered competition from the daughters of Irish farmers suffering the effects of the potato famine; these immigrant women were willing to work for far less and endure worse conditions than native-born women. Male German and Irish immigrants also competed with native-born men. Germans, many of whom were skilled workers, took jobs in furniture making. The Irish provided a ready source of unskilled labor needed to lay railroad tracks and dig canals.

American men with families to support grudgingly accepted low wages in order to keep their jobs. As work became increasingly deskilled, no worker was irreplaceable, and no one’s job was safe. The resulting competition over jobs led to increased hostility from many native-born Americans toward immigrants during the nineteenth century.

6 – Conclusion: A Maturing Society

6.1 – The Human Effects of Industrial Advancements

By the 1830s, the United States had developed a thriving industrial and commercial sector in the Northeast. Farmers embraced regional and distant markets as the primary destination for their products. Artisans witnessed the methodical division of the labor process in factories. Wage labor became an increasingly common experience. These industrial and market revolutions, combined with advances in transportation, transformed the economic and social landscape. Americans could now quickly produce larger amounts of goods for a nationwide, and sometimes an international, market and rely less on foreign imports than they did in colonial times.

As American economic life shifted rapidly and modes of production changed, new class divisions emerged and solidified, resulting in previously unknown economic and social inequalities. Crowded urban settlements of American day laborers and low-wage workers emerged, and these individuals lived a precarious existence that the economic benefits of the new economy largely bypassed. An influx of immigrant workers swelled and diversified an already crowded urban population. By the 1830s, slums became home to widespread poverty, crime, and disease. Advances in industrialization and the market revolution came at a human price.

6.2 – Antebellum Idealism and Reform

The reform efforts of the antebellum years, including abolitionism, aimed to perfect the national destiny and redeem the souls of individual Americans. A great deal of optimism, fueled by evangelical Protestantism revivalism, underwrote the moral crusades of the first half of the nineteenth century. Some reformers targeted what they perceived as the shallow, materialistic, and democratic market culture of the United States and advocated a stronger sense of individualism and self-reliance. Others dreamed of a more equal society and established their own idealistic communities. Still others, who viewed slavery as the most serious flaw in American life, labored to end the institution. Women’s rights, temperance, health-care issues, and a host of other efforts also came to the forefront during the heyday of reform in the 1830s and 1840s.

6.3 – The Second Great Awakening and Transcendentalism

Evangelical Protestantism pervaded American culture in the antebellum era and fueled a belief in the possibility of changing society for the better. Leaders of the Second Great Awakening such as Charles G. Finney urged listeners to take charge of their own salvation. This religious message dovetailed with the new economic possibilities created by the market and Industrial Revolution, making the Protestantism of the Second Great Awakening, with its emphasis on individual spiritual success, a reflection of the individualistic, capitalist spirit of the age. Transcendentalists took a different approach, but like their religiously oriented brethren, they too looked to create a better existence. These authors, most notably Ralph Waldo Emerson, identified a major tension in American life between the effort to be part of the democratic majority and the need to remain true to oneself as an individual.

6.4 – Utopian Communities and Communal Experiments

Many reformers of the time engaged in communal experiments aimed to recast economic and social relationships by introducing innovations designed to create a more stable and equitable society. Their ideas found many expressions, from early socialist experiments (such as by the Fourierists and the Owenites) to the dreams of the New England intellectual elite (such as Brook Farm). The Second Great Awakening also prompted many religious utopias, like those of the Rappites, the Shakers, and the Mormons.

6.5 – Immigration

In the middle half of the nineteenth century, more than one-half of the population of Ireland emigrated to the United States, along with an equal number of Germans. Most of these immigrants arrived because of civil unrest, severe unemployment, or hardships at home. This wave of immigration affected almost every city in the United States. From 1820 to 1870, more than 7.5 million immigrants came to the United States—more than the entire population of the country in 1810. Burgeoning companies were able to absorb all who wanted to work. Immigrants built canals and constructed railroads, and were involved in almost every labor-intensive endeavor in the country. Much of the country was built on their backs.


Originally published by Lumen Learning – Boundless U.S. History under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

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